Reach, owner of the Daily Mirror and Manchester Evening News, has ended its pursuit of local publisher JPIMedia, formerly known as Johnston Press, a trading update from the company has revealed.
The publisher been in active discussions about buying around 200 regional newspapers at JPIMedia – a move that would have further strengthened Reach’s position as the UK’s top local newspaper publishing group.
It is the company’s first financial update since Jim Mullen, former Ladbrokes chief executive, replaced Simon Fox as chief executive in August.
In the five months ending 24 November, Reach’s like-for-like revenue fell by 4.4% – something that it said was an improvement on the 6.6% decrease in the same period in 2018.
The publisher reported flat half-year revenues of £352.6m in the six months to June – down 0.3% year on year, partly helped by acquiring Northern & Shell assets such as the Daily Express and OK! last year. For 2018, it posted a £120m pretax loss, due to a £200m asset writedown.
Reach suffered from a 7.3% decline in like-for-like print revenue, while digital grew by 14%. This compares with an 8.2% fall and a 9.3% increase respectively for the same period last year.
The company said "strong audience growth" across its national and regional websites is giving Reach confidence to further extend its Live network of digital regional brands into new areas, with at least seven planned for 2020. It plans to hire "approximately 50 journalists" to service these brands.
Mullen said: "We have made good financial and operational progress during the period, including an improved like-for-like revenue trend and a further reduction in net debt… We are working to complement our audience reach with a significant depth of customer insight and data that will allow us to build an intelligent, relevant and trusted content business for the long term."